I really like seeing palaces when we trvael. I find them intriguing with their lavish trappings and grandeur. I like to imagine what it would have been like to live in such an incredible structure. Additionally, coming from a country with no royalty, I’m curious about the structures of court life and some of the unusual traditions built around living with and among the nobility. Vienna is rife with amazing, old buildings, and walking around the 1st district is really quite an experience.
When we were preparing for our visit to the Imperial City, it was natural that we would plan to visit the 17th century imperial summer palace, which is now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. The fact that it also hosts one of Vienna’s Christmas markets didn’t hurt either.
The grounds extend for an impressive 1.2 x 1 km and were opened to the public as early as 1779. Today the sculptured grounds continue to serve Viennese locals as a public park. We’ve visited the grounds a few times during our stay, and you can tell it is well loved by the locals and with good reason.
There is a zoo on the premises, and it just happens to be the oldest zoo in the world. The imperial menagerie was opened in 1752 and continues as a scientifically administered zoo focused on conservation efforts. The preserved Baroque buildings help you feel like you’re experiencing something from the past. It is an ambience that is unmatched by any other zoo experience we’ve had.
Tigger had been wanting to see a giant panda, and lo and behold Vienna would give him that opportunity!
The exhibits are really quite well done and allow you an up-close experience. Interspersed throughout the grounds are play areas for kids which I think is a great addition.
The zoo is open 365 days a year. Prices are similar to large zoo prices in the US. If you order online, you’ll get a 1€ price break per ticket. However, you will have to print out paper copies of the ticket, so it might just be cheaper to get them at the zoo, unless you’re doing a visit during a peak time. We were there on Christmas, so there was no one in line.
If you’re planning on hitting the zoo first and are coming via the metro, you’ll want to choose the Hiezing station. The palace is on the other side of the park, and it’s a bit of a walk.
There are 3 types of tickets for touring the palace: imperial tour, grand tour, and the Sisi tickets. The imperial tour covers 22 rooms and takes about 30-40 minutes. Adult tickets are 11.50€ (about $16 USD) and kids are 8.50€.
The grand tour encompasses 40 rooms and will set you back about $20 USD for adults.
If you plan on seeing a lot of Vienna’s history, especially of the imperial life, then you may want to consider the Sisi ticket. It costs about $35 USD for an adult; however, you do get a lot with it. For starters, the ticket is valid for one year from the date of issue. At the palace you get to skip the longer lines, and you get free use of the audio guides. It includes admission to the grand tour of the palace, the Hofburg imperial apartments, the Sisi museum, and the imperial silver and furniture collections.
Note that the other sites are located in district 1, not on the same site as the Schönbrunn Palace.
Additionally, you are not allowed to take photographs inside the buildings. We were both provided with press passes, and even as members of the press we were forbidden to take photographs “during business hours.” That is really OK because the interiors are not that exciting. The emperor did not want a lot of fancy decoration.
So you’re probably wondering if it’s worth the price of admission.
Before I give my opinion, let me say this: We’ve been to Versailles twice, the Grand Palace in Bangkok, and some castles, including the wondrous Peles Castle in Romania. It’s REALLY difficult to compete with those places.
Having said that, I have to admit that I would not feel justified in paying these prices to tour the Schönbrunn Palace. It’s beautiful inside, but it just can’t compare with other similar buildings. Even the natural history museum downtown was much more impressive than the interior of this edifice.
Tigger agrees from the tween perspective.
The Weihnachtsmarkt at the palace is smaller than most of the others but also a lot less crowded. I believe the ratio of food and drink booths compared with arts & crafts, etc., was about half and half, which is also nice. We did eat here for lunch and had some hot drinks, and it was all quite fabulous and very fairly priced. As entrance to the grounds is free, it’s really worth coming to the market.
Note: Some Christmas market maps make it look like the market is on the side closest to the Hietzing station. This is incorrect. The market is held in front of the palace, and the closest metro station is the Schönbrunn stop.
Visiting the market at night makes the experience that much more magical.
If you’re considering visiting the grounds with children, I definitely would encourage it. There are plenty of areas for running around, riding bikes, and so on.
The palace has a maze and playground area for kids (admission charged). There is also a fun museum experience for kids from ages 4 to 12. The kids can even dress up as princes and princesses and play with toys from the imperial times.
Obviously, the zoo will probably be a big hit. There is also a fun train to take around the 160-hectare park. A daily pass gives you hop-on and hop-off privileges and will save your feet, possibly your back, and definitely your sanity if you have little ones.
Skip the palace tour. The grounds and the zoo are much more interesting.
- Decide where you wish to begin your visit because choosing the right metro station can really make a difference.
- The U4 metro line, trams 10 & 58, and bus 10A will all bring you to the palace grounds. As with all parking in Vienna, you will pay half the national debt to park near here. Public transportation is really your best friend. Keep in mind that on Sundays, children 15 and under travel on the metro, tram, and bus systems for free.
- If you’re really itching to see the inside of the palace but don’t want to pay big money, I’d recommend the imperial tour. Those rooms were more interesting than the additional sections you’ll see on the grand tour unless you just really have a fascination with the daily apartment life of the imperial family.
- There is virtually no signage within the palace, so if you tend to be the curious type, you’ll want to rent audio guides (they are included if you get the Sisi ticket, however).
- The Christmas market closes early on the night of the 24th. When we visited, it actually closed an hour earlier than the posted schedule. So if you wish to visit it at night, you’ll want to come another day.